Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lewitt responds to the Abbey Lee Kershaw film flak, suicide prevention experts weigh in

Earlier this month frockwriter reported that a South Korean fashion brand called Lewitt had engaged American photographer Ryan McGinley to shoot a short film starring high profile Australian model Abbey Lee Kershaw. The film, which depicts Kershaw climbing to the top of a building, hesitating whilst anxiously looking down and then hurling herself over the edge, with the fall documented in slow motion to show multiple clothing changes, seemed like an odd concept for promoting fashion to young women in a country that boasts the world’s highest female suicide rate. Odder still, given that seven models - including South Korea’s Daul Kim – committed suicide over the past two years. Four, by jumping. Kershaw subsequently revealed that the film was inspired by Alice in Wonderland. McGinley has still not responded to frockwriter’s questions. But Lewitt did finally get back to us – albeit apparently via its advertising agency. We received the following response from a South Korean company called Intoo Creative. Since we have had no prior dealings with them, we did seek to confirm with the Lewitt HQ that it was in fact an official company statement. In ten days there has been no response. So here goes:

"The basic inspiration of our film came from a picture of a model (Agyness Deyn) jumping off a building, which was taken by Mr. Ryan McGinley. We tried to show fantastical images and visuals as much as possible that are well-known as the trade mark of Mr. McGinley himself. However, our particular film includes more than his trade mark of jumping & running visuals. It also was inspired by fantasy worlds from movies called Alice in Wonderland and Pan’s Labyrinth.
We would like to point out that at our most recent press premiere in Korea, there were no feedbacks whatsoever that link this excellent film to a motive that might even be encouraging any suicidal behaviors on Korean women. This film clearly expresses and portrays a girl’s adventure of finding freedom in her own fantasy world.

We understand that feelings and feedbacks may vary depending on individuals. However, we are sorry to hear that linking this film to Korean women’s suicidal rate based on an opinion noted on one individual’s personal blog is not at all a fair claim.
Lastly, for your information, official website of “LEWITT” is not yet to be opened and is still under construction. It is during this period when a picture of Abbey is shown just as a filling-in image for the site’s construction period.
Once again, thank you for your interest. Should you have any further queries, please feel free to contact. We sincerely ask you strongly not to misunderstand the true intention of the film".

The film – in full – is now up on the Lewitt website. As are a number of still images of Kershaw – including several shots taken as she jumps and falls (above, below). 

However the image of Kershaw lying spread-eagle on the ground (at the top of this post), which was used on Lewitt's website before the video went up - and was later removed after the negative feedback - is nowhere to be seen. 

In closing, just a reminder that it wasn’t just this blog which called the video into question.

A number of other blogs and media outlets picked the story up. Others, including Jezebel, followed.

While sadly we do seem to be covering more and more model suicide stories these days, fashion reporters of course are not suicide prevention experts. 

Just out of interest, what do the latter have to say about the Lewitt film? Frockwriter spoke to several suicide prevention experts who did not seem particularly impressed. 

Jaelea Skehan, Program Manager, Mindframe National Media Initiative at the Hunter Institute of Mental Health:

“While it may not be intended, the video could be interpreted as depicting suicide. 
While there has been limited international evidence looking at advertising specifically, there is substantial international research that links depictions of suicide in news and entertainment media with increased rates of deaths and attempts by suicide. Risk is increased where the media portrayal depicts a specific method or location of death. 
It is important for all forms of media to consider the potential impact that their portayals may have on vulnerable audiences". 

Professor Bob Montgomery, President of the Australian Psychological Society:

“It’s a potential problem. We know there’s a copycat effect. Models are chosen because they’re presented as, ‘This is is someone you desire to be, this is the look you should have, this is clearly someone you should be identifying with’. Whatever their intention is, is irrelevant. What counts is the impact on the people who are likely to see it and be influenced by it. So it is unfortunate that they’re presenting an apparent attempt at killing yourself as in any way glamorous. Their intention is to flog whatever she’s wearing to as many people as possible at outrageous prices and they’re willing to do almost anything to achieve that. And this is what I would call reckless advertising”.
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Child and Adolescent Psychologist:

"Yes I think this is problematic, it glamorizes, normalizes and
sanitizes suicide. Research suggests that the more we talk about,
write about or depict suicide there is a corresponding increase in
suicides. This is manifestly irresponsible and if someone did end
their lives, I wonder whether there might be a cause for action in law
against the advertisers?"

Could it inspire copycat suicides?

"Yes the Yukiko effect is a well accepted phenomenon. Around 10 o'clock April 8, 1986, the 18-year old Okada Yukiko ( a Japanese Brittany Speares) was found with a slashed wrist in her gas-filled Tokyo apartment, crouching in a closet and sobbing. Two hours later, the singer jumped to her death from the seven-storey Sun Music Agency building. The reason for the suicide is still unknown. Her untimely death resulted in many copycat suicides soon christened with the neologism "Yukko Syndrome" for copycat suicides in Japan".

Is there even a problem drawing attention to it, because it might encourage
those who are sitting on the fence to take action?

"The massive wave of emulation suicides after a widely publicized
suicide is also known as the Werther effect, following the Werther
novel of Goethe.The well-known suicide serves as a model, in the
absence of protective factors, for the next suicide. This is referred
to as suicide contagion. They occasionally spread through a school
system, through a community, or in terms of a celebrity suicide wave,
nationally. This is called a suicide cluster. To prevent this type of
suicide, it is customary in some countries for the media to discourage
suicide reports except in special cases".

***Any readers in need of support and information about suicide prevention should contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) or***

all images: screen caps/


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